22 October 2010

I See in Infrared: The Next Phase

Per my previous post, I had been taking a number of infrared images with a variety of point-and-shoots for quite happily for several years. Then in early 2008 I got wind of a new, infrared-sensitive camera just out on the market: the Fuji IS-1. This camera was a follow-up to Fuji’s much-acclaimed, but discontinued and hard as a four-leaf clover to find S3 Pro UVIR. (The S3 Pro UVIR was a DSLR that was not only IR sensitive but also sensitive in the ultra-violet bandwidth – a real rarity.) Fuji called the  IS-1 a ‘neo-SLR’ and it looks like a miniature plastic DSLR but with an integral 28-300mm zoom lens. Like the S3 Pro UVIR, it was not targeted for professional photographers, but rather the forensic and scientific community. Unlike its predecessor the IS-1 sacrificed one critical component to go into that smaller and lighter package…can you guess?


Sensor size. The IS-1 uses essentially a point-and-shoot CCD sensor while the S3 (and most other digital SLRs that are not full-frame) has an APS sized sensor. Here are some sensor size numbers to chew on: Canon G1 (my previous IR camera) = 0.38cm2; Fuji IS-1 = 0.45cm2; Pentax K10 (APS sensor) = 3.68cm2. There is an 8-fold difference between the sensor size of the IS-1 and my K10. Yet, the IS-1 is rated at 9 megapixels and the K10 is at 10mp. How is this possible? The pixel densities on the two sensors are quite different: 2.7 MP/cm² for the Pentax and a whopping 19 MP/cm² for the IS-1. So what and why am I spending all this time on this? Bear with me.


Flashback to February 2008 and I was seduced by the thought of shooting IR hand-held using a variety of infrared filters and working with a 9mp RAW file. I plunked the dough down and couldn’t wait for it to arrive along with my Hoya 720nm, Tiffen 780nm and B+W 830nm infrared filters.


One of the first images I took was of our golden retriever, Hannah. “Cool shot” I thought, but was struck immediately by the grain in the 400 ISO image. This – and one other aspect – are the major demerit points of the IS-1. The grain – let’s call it what it is: noise – is a consequence of cramming so many pixels into such a small sensor. I have managed the noise via two methodologies: try to shoot no higher than 200 ISO and certainly not above 400 ISO; and use noise reduction software in post-processing. This combination has permitted me to shoot lots of great images and print them up to around 13x19 size.


The different IR-depths of the three filters allowed me to be able to shoot hand-held in generally most types of light, while also realizing some subtle differences between the wavelength captures. But I also came to experience pretty quickly the other downside to this camera: persistent hot spot at f5 and above. In bright sun this becomes a major annoyance, especially if I want maximum depth of field. Why Fuji did not design an IR-sensitive camera to inherently baffle these stray, bouncing IR waves is beyond me. Depending upon subject matter sometimes I can tone down the hot spot via spot adjustments in post-processing. But if the spot is in the sky, well, as the New Yorkers say: fegitabowtit.


Despite all this, the flexibility and generally superior image of my IS-1 relegated the Canon G1 (not to mention the previously mentioned Olympus and Nikon point and shoots) quickly to retirement on my shelf. For a year, I shot infrared exclusively with the Fuji. Until, that is, I made the next leap…


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